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by kevin varner 11 months ago in opinion
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What I have noticed over the pandemic

For generations we have been exploited by the upper class, this is no secret. Our government seems to only work for the top 10% or less of the nation’s wealthiest citizens while putting all of the downfalls on the working class, blaming us for the failure of our economy. A favorite scapegoat for this is the millennial, whether it is them not buying enough houses or eating too much avocado toast the millennial seems to be the media's go-to for any kind of negative dips in the economy. In reality, as many of us knew and more are becoming aware of, it is that top percent of earners and our politicians that are quickening the downturn of our nation. Between tax breaks, offshore accounts, and criminally low wages we on the bottom are left to fight over scraps left behind by these ghouls. Our labor is exploited to the highest degree to make more money for someone who doesn’t know the definition of a struggle and doesn’t know what it’s like to live in a system actively working against you. They would rather we die out of sight and silently than to actually lift people up and help them to achieve a stable living condition. This was, of course, highlighted by the blight of the covid-19 pandemic and the problem is getting harder to ignore.

As lockdowns began and people were either being laid off or told to work from home the unemployment rate rose to nearly 15 percent, a level not seen since the record of such things started being kept. The hardest industry hit was the service industry and restaurants due to people not being able to dine out, coincidentally these are also some of the lowest-paid positions. Those who weren't laid off were kept at an insanely low wage and expected to risk their health and safety to serve the business owner who probably stayed at home at collected the profits from the risk of others. All the while the media is praising these low-income workers as heroes for working through the pandemic they are still working for poverty wages, some saw a temporary increase for ‘hazard pay’ but this, of course, did not last. As soon as businesses saw an opportunity they cut that small increase back to pre-pandemic to save themselves a buck or two an hour. Now that restrictions are being lifted and more things are opening up these service industry jobs especially are finding it difficult to find employees because all of their previous employees were laid off. Of course you cant expect them to acknowledge the fact that they can’t find employees due to their low wages. It is because of stimulus checks and unemployment benefits that many people received, to them, that is what is truly to blame.

The idea that stimulus checks and unemployment benefits are to blame for a shortage in restaurant workers is just a capitalist misdirection. What really happened is people got a taste of what it was like to live on an income that allowed them to pay their bills and have enough left over to keep plenty of food in the house AND do things they enjoy. Not only that but the stay-at-home order opened a lot of time for people to be able to look for new, better-paying jobs. On top of having time to look for and apply to these better-paying jobs they were actually able to make it to interviews without having to call into a shift and either lose money on their paycheck or risk getting fired. For the first time, many people saw an opportunity to better themselves and their lives. People are not going to give up a living wage for 8 dollars an hour on a randomized schedule, never knowing what days they have off or being called in at random and penalized if you don’t show up.

Even of those who have stayed in the fast food and service industry many are starting to realize just how badly they are being exploited. All over the country, we are seeing entire crews walking out of places like Wendys, dollar general, McDonald’s, and subway because they have woken up and are sick of it. To add to the mass walkouts, many employees are starting to strike and attempting to unionize. Word is that in 15 cities across the country Mcdonald’s employees will be doing a walk-out to strike for a $15 an hour minimum wage. This is not unfounded, it has been a long time coming. It is not some crazy idea, over the last century or so any meaningful labor laws have come from striking workers and unionizing. Child labor laws for example are the direct result of strikes and unions. Somehow though, along the way we have been so propagandized to believe that unions and taxing the rich will only end up hurting the working class. This is simply not true and not based in reality.

In the mid 20th century, when the top 1% were paying a 94% marginal tax rate and union membership was at an all-time high the US economy was also at its strongest. We were the world-leading manufacturer in almost everything. Workers were happy, they were able to supply for their families and homelessness was incredibly low. The future of the countries economy was looking bright. That is until presidents like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan rook office and started to undo decades of work done by their predecessors. Between tax cuts for the wealthy and declaring a war on drugs, more and more people became disenfranchised, particularly people of the black community, but that deserves its own essay.

As more politicians who aligned themselves with the ideas of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan took office we saw a decrease in the number of minimum wage increases regardless of the rate of inflation. We saw a rise of propaganda from the wealthy against the ‘welfare queen’ and the demonization of anyone who relied on public assistance to survive. They were painted as a drain on society that the American worker was paying for. In reality, this was simply a cover or a scapegoat that the ones in power could use while they passed laws to enrich themselves. It worked too, many people turned against the lower class blaming them for the recessions, and opposed minimum wage increases because they were told it would only cause prices to rise. Well, prices continued to rise anyway, and we have very few wage increases to try and blame it on.

This is a trend that continued for decades and we have seen multiple recessions because of lax laws and low tax for the wealthy. A blinding example of this is the 2008 housing market crash. Banks were issuing mortgage loans to low qualified earners knowing full well they would never be able to pay it back, and when they couldn’t the bank would foreclose the homes and resell them again to make even more money. This is of course a very simplified version of what happened but it gets the idea across. This brings us to the recession of today, the Covid recession.

For so long businesses were allowed to basically do whatever they wanted and exploit their employees however they wanted under the guise of a ‘free market economy.’ Many people ate it up, telling low-wage workers to “find better jobs if you are not happy” or “go to college.” as if a college degree guarantees a well-paying job, spoiler, it doesn’t. That is obvious to anyone who is currently in the job market and recently graduated college. Many employers want a 4-year degree but are offering shit benefits and less than 15 dollars an hour. More people, such as myself have realized this and decided not to enter lifelong debt for a degree that isn’t going to make me any more money than I would make just going through a temp agency. But finally, after being blatantly shown that these employers do not care about our well-being or safety many people realized exactly what was being kept from them. The fight for $15 has only gained traction, strikes are getting more popular, unionization is being pursued by many.

It is my hope, that in the next decade or less we see an economic boom that benefits the workers. Though many people are starting to notice the exploitation there is still a lot of us that are still under the spell of capitalism. I see it all the time online, young people blaming others for the fact that they are getting taxed so heavy, or gloating at the fact that they never had to rely on public assistance. As if anyone who has is of lesser value and not worthy of food, shelter, or enjoyment. From what I have seen though, the number of people who believe this is smaller than it was even 5 years ago. With that realization though the polarization of our country has gotten huge, which is a whole other level of fucked up. The next 4 years are going to be a major turning point for this country, whether it will be for the better or for the worse I can’t say. What I can say however is, no matter which way the pendulum swings, it is going to be a tremendous swing.


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kevin varner

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